I read a great article on four bad habits: losing focus, jumping to conclusions, fighting fires 24/7, and poor time management. Previously, we have written about four enemies of IT management: the speed of business, tech pursuits, laissez-faire project management, and communication. Let’s look at three good habits to avoid the bad ones and conquer the enemies of IT.
Losing focus is not a problem IT departments have. It’s the lack of refocusing, and here’s why. Most IT people can set their sights on a single objective and pursue it for hours, even days, uninterrupted. That is what gets IT departments into trouble: they don’t take time to refocus, that is, they don’t “reboot their focus.” Interrupting focus, especially when working on a project that requires intense thinking, can be a significant hindrance to work, but focusing on the wrong tasks is an even bigger hindrance. Make a habit that will establish focus interrupts to re-prioritize and reassess what core objectives all activity should be pointed towards. Habits of refocusing will ensure greater energy is applied towards priorities and eliminate waste.
Perhaps establish three levels of refocusing. The first level is a short interrupt that doesn’t deter from the task at hand, but eliminates the quick tedious tasks like priority emails and such that flood IT. The second level is an assessment of whether or not to switch which task you are currently working on by assessing if another task has higher priority. The third level is an assessment of which core objectives should be focused on and drop the ones that are non-essential. Level one focus interrupts should occur anywhere from every 15 minutes to an hour, level two focus interrupts should occur once or twice a day, and level three focus interrupts should occur anywhere from once a week to once a month.
As the Computer World article says, “Don’t jump to conclusions.” The article addresses this point well, but in a broader look it could be stated as simply “investigate.” The manager’s job is to get other people to do all the work. Yet, a common problem is when the manager and the worker believe the burden of proof lies on the other side, that is, the other party should be making sure things get done. To avoid this fallacy, managers ought to continually investigate what is going on and ask questions. Perhaps make a point to collect reports, have meetings (only if effective), or just make a point to inquire of workers what is happening on the ground. False conclusions and a laissez-faire atmosphere can be conquered through making a habbit of investigation.
3. Practice Communication Skills
Make a habit of practicing communication skills as an individual and as a department. Being a good communicator doesn’t happen by osmosis and it certainly doesn’t happen over night. We wrote before about how important communication is: it is the one thing that ties everything together. Corporations live or die based on how well ideas and issues are communicated by the company both inside and outside. Build relationships among staff by making a point to talk to each member at least once a day. Perhaps the first time you talk to a member each day ask how the current project is coming, what their thoughts on it are, if they have any thoughts, comments, or objections. Have an all staff meal once a week, start an IRC chat, build your vocab by reading the word of the day–be creative: find ways to practice communication skills to keep the juices flowing.
Before digging into these habits, how does one build a habit? There are plenty of articles on the subject, and some elaborate ones, but the one that stands out the most focuses on making a trigger for the habit. The trigger can be a time, place, person, thing, or event. For example, let’s say you want to start working out. A time trigger for it would be 5:30 am, and any time it is 5:30 am you are obligated to exercise. Or it could be a person; any time this person asks you to go work out you are obligated to do so. Assess what habits you want to make, establish triggers for each one, and execute. Investing in even a few small habits can have large payoffs in the long run and make conquerers out of your IT department.